In the whirlwind of the holidays, especially after the year most docs have had, it’s important to take time to wind down and enjoy the season. Wrapping yourself in a favorite wool blanket, donning cozy loungewear and sitting by a fireplace (if you’re fortunate enough to have one) all help, but a winter cocktail can bring that internal warmth to the body and soul. To find drinks that capture the spirit of the season, I turned to dear friends for three favorites that bring the holidays in while keeping winter out.

Glühwein, a traditional concoction found in German Christmas markets, is served in market-specific mugs that double as hand warmers for shoppers in the open and frigid air. Beth Ann Fennelly, poet laureate of Mississippi, made this wonderful mulled wine for a recent small, safe, socially distanced gathering around an outdoor firepit to celebrate my birthday. My first sip said, “Y’all are home for the holidays.”

Warm, spiced and spiked, Southern Winter Holiday Punch, offered up by keyboard wizard Mark Yacovone, is an apple cider-based cocktail that leans South, calling for bourbon. Yacovone maintains that the drink works with pretty much any of your favorite liquors — whiskey, rum or tequila. I have to agree.

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El Abuelo is a craft cocktail I created with Bradley Johnson, who is a truly amazing mixologist. Smoky mezcal and Añejo tequila are mixed with a chocolate-infused simple syrup with a hit of cayenne for a riff on an Aztec hot chocolate-inspired old fashioned. Served on the rocks, this cocktail is a transporter to warmer climes. Enjoy the trip.

—Jack Sonni, writer, musician and food lover, known as the “other guitar player” in Dire Straits


  • 2 cups apple cider 
  • 750 ml dry red wine
  • ¼ cup honey or maple syrup or sugar 
  • 2-3 cinnamon sticks, star anise, cardamom pods 
  • 5 whole cloves 
  • 1 orange, peeled and sliced into rounds (I zested the peel and used the zest in the Glüwein, then peeled off the bitter pith)
  • ½ cup booze of your choice – bourbon, rum, whiskey all work nicely

Combine ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to just barely a boil (as to not burn off the alcohol), then turn down. Let simmer for 15 minutes, enough time for the house to smell like the sugarplum dreams of lucky children on Santa’s good list. Taste and adjust, with a drizzle of honey, for sweetness. Strain and serve in a mug.

“It’s traditional to garnish with orange peel and cinnamon stick, but I don’t because it’s frankly annoying to drink from a mug with a cinnamon stick angling for your nostril,” my friend Fennelly notes.

Southern Winter Holiday Punch

  • 4 cups apple cider
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 whole cloves
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 oranges
  • ¾ cups liquor

Use a vegetable peeler to create peels from one orange, slice the rest and set aside. Combine apple cider, cinnamon stick, cloves and salt in a large saucepan. Halve and squeeze the juice from the second orange. Add orange peels. Bring to a simmer, remove from heat and steep 10 to 15 minutes. Strain mixture into a pitcher and add your choice of liquor. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours but preferably overnight. Reheat and serve warm in mugs garnished with orange slices. Smiles abound!

El Abuelo

  • 1.5 oz Añejo tequila
  • 1.5 oz mezcal
  • 3-4 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters or Angostura Cocoa Bitters
  • 0.75 oz Aztec chocolate-infused syrup (see recipe below)

Stir in a mixing glass with ice. Strain over ice. Twist a Ruby Red grapefruit peel over the top. The peel adds a hint of much-needed brightness. To accentuate the smokiness of the mezcal, flame the top. ¡Arriba!

Chocolate-Infused Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup demerara or turbinado granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 4-5 tsp Abuelita hot chocolate drink tablets (cacao nibs or dark chocolate also work)
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Combine ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir constantly, as to not burn the sugar or chocolate, for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool in the pan. Strain. The syrup keeps for up to a week in the fridge.